MAY 12, 2016 3:37 PM PDT

Wearable 'Second Skin': The Newest Solution to Wrinkles

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
A new cream may really be the answer for men and women seeking ways to hide wrinkles and under-eye bags. No gimmicks here, folks – only science! The product is a polymer that forms a transparent and smooth film on the skin, mimicking the look of youthful skin. This film integrates so well on skin that the researchers dubbed it “second skin.”
 
Left: skin treated XPL; Right: no treatment
Skin makes up our largest organ. And mimicking the complexities of skin is no easy task. What are the requirements to make a second skin? “It has to be nearly invisible. The skin still has to be able to breathe through this stuff. And it needs to be strong enough and elastic enough that it actually affects the recoil of the skin,” said Rox Anderson, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and senior study author.
 
The formula for the second skin is made from silicone-based polymers called siloxanes, which makes an elastic, wearable cross-linked polymer layer (XPL). In a two-step process, the siloxane gel is first applied to the skin, followed by a layer of a second gel that cures the polymer into a transparent skin-like film without requiring further external heat or light for activation. Additionally, the ingredients in this formula are commonly used and deemed safe by the FDA.

Reporting in Nature Materials, the team conducted a small pilot study on 170 subjects, and found the XPL skin closely resembled that of normal skin. Specifically, the XPL had tensile strengths and elasticity comparable to or exceeding that of normal skin. In 12 people that had sagging skin at the eye, also affectionately known as under-eye bags, the XPL reduced sagging by 40 percent.
 

The idea for a topical concoction that can pull skin taut and alleviate wrinkles is not new. In fact, the team had previously developed a version of the polymer for the same purpose. However, this early version was criticized for its short-lasting anti-wrinkle effects.
 
The newly reformulated version allows the film to adhere to the skin for up to 24 hours. Because of this, the second skin may have other medical purposes besides its primary cosmetics intent.
 
Aside from eliminating unwanted wrinkles, the XPL can provide a durable, elastic skin barrier for those suffering from eczema or psoriasis. Furthermore, other medical compounds may be incorporated into the film to alleviate skin irritation and provide relief. If the film is infused with chemical or physical sunscreen ingredients, people can apply the ointment and be safely protected from sunburn, without reapplication for 24 hours. Keeping things on the skin may be another important function of this second skin. If applied over other topical drugs, the XPL can prevent the drug from rubbing off on clothing.
 
“I think it is brilliant,” said Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, who was not involved in the research. “What they have done is design a clever biomaterial that recapitulates the properties of young and healthy skin. They can use it as sort of a Band-Aid over old and aging skin and get very significant results.”

Additional sources: BBC, NY Times 
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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